Return of Balangiga Bells end of ‘painful chapter’ for Philippines and US

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Balangiga
The Balangiga Bells are removed from crates after being transported to the Philippines aboard a plane called ‘The Spirit of MacArthur’. Pictures courtesy of the US Embassy in Manila.

The return of Balangiga Bells after 117 years has been described as “the closure of a painful chapter” between the Philippines and US.

Speaking during the handover ceremony at Villamor Air Base today (Tuesday, December 11), Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said: “Now they are home. They are going back to where they belong. It’s time for healing, it’s time for closure. It’s time to look ahead as two nations should, with shared history and as allies.”

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The three bells were taken by American soldiers as war trophies in 1901, after they avenged an ambush that killed 48 of their troops.

The US forces took a bloody revenge for the attack, in what has become known as the Balangiga Massacre.

Two of the bells were previously installed at a memorial for fallen troops at a military base in Wyoming, while the third was in a US military base in South Korea.

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The bells were flown in on a US C-130 cargo plane — fittingly named ‘The Spirit of MacArthur’ — today and will remain at the air base until they are returned to the church in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, on Saturday.

Balangiga Bells ‘a symbol’

“How could these three bells evoke so much intense emotion among Filipino and Americans? Maybe because we human beings live by symbols such as our national flag and in this instance, these bells. They are a symbol of our identity and ourselves,” Lorenzana said.

“This symbolises the courage and patriotism of the soldiers whose acts we would like to perpetuate with these bells.”

US ambassador Sung Kim said the return of the bells signalled the “closing of a painful chapter” in the history of the two countries.

“That painful conflict soon ended, and our countries became partners and friends. We fought together for freedom and to protect democratic values across the Indo-Pacific region. In World War Two and Korea our soldiers fought, bled, died and sacrificed side by side,” he said.

“The bells’ return reflects the strong bonds and mutual respect between our nations and our peoples. The Bells of Balangiga are home now, in the Philippines, where they belong.”

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